Want a butler catering to your every desire, a spacious stateroom, the finest cuisine and a boutique hotel vibe? Becky Wiggins has everything you need to know to choose, book and plan that exclusive escape

The deck top pool on Viking Star
The deck top pool on Viking Star

If you thought luxury cruising was beyond your reach, think again. Not only can it offer superb value for money, with lots of inclusivity within the price, but it’s also an incredibly relaxed way to explore the world.

“Luxury cruising continues to surge ahead as it becomes more attainable to a wider audience that would normally travel on the premium cruise lines,” explains Bernard Carter, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, EMA, for Oceania Cruises. “Empty-nesters, in particular, are interested in upgrading their cruise to the more intimate and inclusive experiences that are available at the top end of the market.”

“The luxury cruise market is evolving,” agrees Andy Harmer, Vice President of Operations, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), Europe. “The extremely high attention to customer service remains of course, as do the luxurious and spacious ships with their exceptional design and cuisine. But luxury is now also about the ability to deliver unrivalled memories in amazing locations.
“I’m sure the arrival of two new luxury ocean ships this year – Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Explorer and Seabourn Encore – will not disappoint.

“Luxury is not limited to just ocean cruising either. This year also sees the launch of a number of luxury river vessels from river cruise lines including AmaWaterways, Scenic, Avalon Waterways and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection offering guests new destinations and unforgettable experiences.”

A sumptuous interior on board Uniworld's Ganges Voyager II
A sumptuous interior on board Uniworld’s Ganges Voyager II

Frette sheets, Nespresso machines and more…

It’s all in the details on a luxury cruise – from minibars restocked with your favourite tipples and handcrafted beds draped in the finest linens to the towels (warm and cold) that appear as if by magic when you’re reclining by the pool.

As you might expect, staterooms are superlative: think boutique hotel chic with exquisite furnishings, carpet, marble and premium products. From the enormous multi-room suites such as the heavenly Regent Suite on board new ship Seven Seas Explorer, with its garden, in-suite spa and wrap-around balcony, and the divine and spacious Scandi-style staterooms on Viking Ocean Cruises’ ships, to the bathrooms with proper baths on Hapag Lloyd’s Europa 2, accommodation on a luxury cruise ship is sophisticated and swish.

“The difference really is in the details,” says Kathryn Beadle, Managing Director of Uniworld UK. “From in-suite butlers trained to the exact standards required by Buckingham Palace, to exquisitely designed one-of-a-kind ships, exceptional onboard entertainment and personalised onshore excursions, our main focus to is provide guests with an experience like no other.”

MS Koningsdam’s stunning pool deck
MS Koningsdam’s stunning pool deck

And relax…

Luxury cruise lines know their guests want to spend lazy days relaxing on deck with a cocktail or two, so think state-of-the-art pools, whirlpool spas, private hideaways with comfortable sunbeds, and even the odd putting green.

Holland America’s new MS Koningsdam’s stunning dual-level Lido Pool area features a gorgeous pool, water jets and a trio of whirlpools with a retractable glass roof, and Viking Sea’s stunning glass backed infinity pool extends off the back of the ship for a unique experience that feels like you’re literally swimming out into the ocean.

Winner of the Best Boutique Cruise Line at the 2015 Cruise International Awards, Seabourn continues to innovate with new Seabourn Encore, featuring a marina deck which transforms into a private beach resort with kayaks, pedal boats and windsurfers.

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa near Easter Island
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa near Easter Island

Oh the places we’ll go

With smaller ships gaining access to ports inaccessible to bigger vessels, luxury cruise itineraries are diverse. Azamara Club Cruises’ mid-sized Journey and Quest vessels both sail right into the Klong Toei district of Bangkok, leaving larger vessels out at sea, and Uniworld’s S.S. Joie de Vivre was designed to be smaller especially so that it can dock in the centre of Paris.

Luxury cruise lines continue to push the boundaries, offering ever more exotic and adventurous itineraries. Silversea ExpeditionsSilver Explorer offers an incredible Argentina to Antarctica trip, stopping off at the Falkland Islands and Elephant Island. Cruises from Sydney, Australia visit Tasmania, New Zealand, and the Pacific islands of Fiji, Tonga and French Polynesia. New Seabourn Encore offers a fascinating 16-day itinerary sailing north from Sydney, taking in the Great Barrier Reef and the Queensland Coast before docking in Bali.

River cruising allows guests to explore the very heart of destinations and Uniworld’s Ganges Voyager II travels from New Delhi to stops including Agra for the Taj Mahal. AmaWaterways offers specialist wine cruises sailing the Seine, Rhone, Danube, Rhine and Douro, including vineyard visits and tastings, and expert talks.

The smart deck on board Uniworld’s River Orchid ship
The smart deck on board Uniworld’s River Orchid ship

Imaginative excursions and destination immersion are important parts of the luxury cruise experience. Many cruise lines, including AmaWaterways, Azamara Club Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn, SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea and Uniworld offer a truly inclusive cruise, meaning all excursions are included in the price. “Our guests really want to immerse themselves into the destinations we visit – there is a real thirst for knowledge and insight,” says Lynn Narraway, MD of Seabourn. “So we are very proud to be in partnership with UNESCO, which means enhanced content on tours of UNESCO sites including the Taj Mahal and the Great Barrier Reef, as well as tours of Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona.”

If group tours aren’t your thing, AmaWaterways’ AmaViola has a fleet of bicycles on board to allow you to explore your destination on your own, while guests booking the Regent Suite on Seven Seas Explorer have exclusive use of a personal car and guide while in port.

Regent Seven Seas Voyager’s atrium
Regent Seven Seas Voyager’s atrium

Putting on the glitz

Need another reason to choose a luxury cruise? Whether it’s enjoying the sumptuous décor, like happening upon a stunning Damien Hirst painting on Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2 (there are nearly 900 pieces of original art on board) or personalised touches, such as the monogrammed pair of pyjamas waiting for you in your SeaDream cabin, it’s the little extras that really make your stay special.

On Oceania’s new Sirena, the gloriously comfortable Ultra Tranquility beds feature exclusive, custom made Italian mattresses, and Club Suite guests have their own butler, formally trained by members of the Guild of Professional English Butlers. On Azamara Club Cruises you’ll be welcomed back on board from your land excursion with a cool towel and a glass of chilled bubbles.

Europa 2’s atrium and piano bar
Europa 2’s atrium and piano bar

Luxury for less

Luxury cruise lines are discounting in ways never really seen before, and are including more extras, such as tours, wifi and drinks packages in their prices. “They like to fill their ships as early as possible and tend not to have last minute offers, so if you see a good deal, snap it up,” says Scott Anderson of The Luxury Cruise Company. He recommends breaking prices down to a cost per day, remembering to factor in extras such as flights and transfers, which some cruise lines provide as part of a package: “A per person per day price of under £280 is good value, and under £230 is exceptional,” he adds.

“Our customers understand the value that comes with Regent’s all-inclusive ‘leave your wallet at home’ proposition, combined with an ultra-luxury cruising experience,” says Graham Sadler, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, EMEA, Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

“They love that everything is included in the price and the fact that the social atmosphere on board creates a warm and friendly environment. Regent Seven Seas Cruises provides the most inclusive, ultra-luxury cruise experience at sea. Our guests want for nothing on board our all-suite ships – fine dining, premium wines and spirits, luxury hotel stay and unlimited shore excursions in every port of call.”

Sweet treats by Oceania Cruises
Sweet treats by Oceania Cruises

Did we mention the gold leaf risotto?

Food is always one of the highlights of any cruise, particularly in the speciality restaurants. On luxury cruise lines, the quality of the food is of course consistently excellent, and there may or may not be a cover charge to eat in the speciality restaurants.

Whether it’s gold leaf risotto in Silversea’s Le Champagne restaurant, authentic French food in Tarragon on Europa 2 or caviar brunches with Regent Seven Seas Cruises – food is superb, and wine is usually included with meals, while on some lines (Uniworld, for example) the Champagne and spirits flow freely too. On board Oceania’s new Sirena, fresh from its $40m makeover, dining in all the speciality restaurants, including new Italian restaurant Tuscan Steak, serving fresh seafood and sublime steaks, and contemporary Asian-inspired Red Ginger, is complimentary.

Viking Cruises’ ships Viking Star and Viking Sea combine the features of some of the larger ships with the intimate atmosphere of a boutique luxury vessel. Dining options on board include main venue The Restaurant as well as The Chef’s Table, serving different themed offerings every night, cafés serving afternoon tea and even a waffle house, all with complimentary drinks.

“Viking continues to offer excellent cuisine and guests are free to dine in any of our restaurants without paying extra,” says Wendy Atkin-Smith, MD of Viking Cruises.

The planetarium on board Queen Mary 2
The planetarium on board Queen Mary 2

That’s entertainment

Sophisticated but never dull, entertainment on board luxury cruise lines is diverse, with everything from intimate cabaret-style shows and piano bars to top-name affiliations.

Holland America Line’s new MS Koningsdam features the fabulous BB King’s Blues Club, while music legend Midge Ure will be appearing in an exclusive acoustic show during Cunard’s Queen Mary 2’s transatlantic crossing to New York in September. The ship also boasts the only planetarium at sea, with shows voiced by performers including Tom Hanks.

Smaller ships, particularly the river cruise lines, often bring local performers on board, and offer a wide variety of enrichment programmes, including guest speakers.

The Silver Perspectives Enrichment Programme from Silversea includes onboard guest speakers, shoreside activities and even specialist culinary and wine voyages.

On board Regent’s new Seven Seas Explorer, the state-of-the-art Culinary Arts Kitchen will host hands on cooking classes all with personal instruction.

Holland America Line’s children’s Oasis
Holland America Line’s children’s Oasis

Seen and not heard?

Of course, just because you choose a luxury cruise, it doesn’t mean that you can’t take the children with you. Luxury cruise lines want to portray a relaxed and elegant atmosphere so although many provide activities for children, they don’t tend to promote them too vigorously.

Managing Director of Iglu and Planet Cruises, Simone Clark, agrees: “The six star luxury lines tend to be smaller ships and although they aren’t strictly adults only, there aren’t many children on board as they aren’t especially catered for, although they are made to feel welcome.”

Some luxury cruise lines – Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, for example – offers small but perfectly formed and very cool spaces for children along with interconnecting staterooms.

The trend for multi-generational cruising is booming and most cruise lines offer family or interconnecting staterooms.

Holland America Line offers Club HAL, with supervised activities for kids from 3 to 17 years old, including special cooking classes in the onboard Culinary Arts Centre.

Whether you’re looking for a cultural holiday or relaxing break, find your perfect cruise with our Cruise Finder.